Difference between First Name and Family Name

Key Difference: First name is the name given to a person and is used as the main identification attribute for the person. It is generally given at birth or baptism. First name is also known as forename. Family name is preceded by the first name and this family name is also known as surname or last name.

First name and family name both are important to a person's identity. First name is the given name or the forename. The term family name is understandable by the word 'family' used in it. It not only represents a person's identity but also speaks a lot about the family history. The family name is a name that is inherited from previous generations and thus remains the same for the family. Let us disuss them in details.

It defines first name as:

‘a personal name given to someone at birth or baptism and used before a family name’

It defines family name as:

 ‘a surname’

For example- in the full name ‘John Taylor’, John is the first name as well as the forename. Taylor represents the family name or can be referred as the surname. However, in few countries like Japan, China and Korea, the family name comes before the given name.

The first source for names used in Britain and throughout the English-speaking world is supposed to be the Bible - male names like Adam, Benjamin, David, Jacob, Joseph came into existence from this source and similarly female names like Deborah, Eve, Rebecca, Ruth, Sarah also got introduced. In India, a naming ceremony known as ‘naamkaran’ usually takes place after the birth of the child. In this ceremony the name is decided for the child and is regarded a very auspicious event. Similarly there are various traditions that are followed world wide related to naming ceremony of a child.

Family name, this term itself is sufficient to describe it, as it is the name that we share with our family members. For example, John is the son of Mr. Peter Smith. As, John is the personal name that is given to him, therefore ‘John’ is his first name. His father has ‘Peter’ as his first name. ‘Smith’ precedes ‘Peter’ and therefore it represents the family name. As John, is the son of Mr. Smith, he shares his family name with his father and therefore his full name would be John Smith. In the full name of John Smith, John denotes the first name and Smith denotes the family name.

Some examples depicting the use of family names are listed below:-

  1. Mr. Brown is not happy with the colour. (Family name: Brown)
  2. These Smith brothers are crazy about cars. (Family name: Smith)
  3. Mr. Jay Kapoor has come. (Family name: Kapoor, First name: Jay)
  4. My name is Eva Elizabeth. (Family name: Elizabeth, First name: Eva)

In the early years of middle ages, people were generally living in small villages and thus first names were sufficient to be used in context to a person. However, the times changed and societies started growing bigger in sizes. It became little difficult to use only first names as many people had same names. Thus, the need of surnames or family names originated and people started using these name. The origin of surnames varies from one place to another. However, most of the surnames originated representing the profession of the person, for example- Taylor, Shepherd, Fisher, and Baker. Family names were also based on various other attributes or characteristics like - places, personal characteristics, etc.

The family name can be either patronymic or metronymic. Patronymic means that the last name of a person would be same as the last name of father or we can also say that a child and father will share the same surname. However, in metronymic the child is given the same surname as the mother of the child is having prior to the marriage (maiden's name). Most of the societies believe and work on patronymic systems. In many countries like India, a woman after getting married acquires the surname of her husband. Today, scenarios are changing and many women are also opting the same surname as they had earlier, prior to their marriage.

Both first name and family name are parts of a person’s identity. The first name and family name are therefore connected to each other. However, the major difference between them is that a first name can be anything, it does not show any characteristic of the history involving your ancestors, whereas the family name can give you a lot of information about your origin.

Family names may tell you that what your ancestors were like and from where they came from. A lot of studies have been done in order to research on this particular field. People want to know about their ancestors and family names can be their first introduction to their past.  First name can be regarded as one’s individual identity, whereas family name can be defined as the family’s identity. Family names are also generally used in titles, like Mr. "last name" or Miss "last name".

Image Courtesy: bornangels.com, edsitement.neh.gov

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